Sneaked into last 16, Portugal must start winning matches

LENS, France (AP) " With Cristiano Ronaldo finally showing his scoring prowess, Portugal is hoping to achieve something it hasn't managed yet at the European Championship - win a match.

After three consecutive draws, Portugal squeezed its way into Saturday's round of 16 game against Croatia, which beat defending champion Spain on Tuesday to extend an unbeaten run to 10 matches.

"Croatia had an amazing game against Spain. We respect Croatia but we also believe we can beat them," Portugal coach Fernando Santos said through an interpreter Friday.

Ronaldo, who netted twice in Wednesday's thrilling 3-3 draw with Hungary, would clearly be the player Portugal turns to for a victory in Lens.

"Portugal is always a team, and Ronaldo is a team player," Santos said. "Without great teams, there are no great players. A great player might decide a single game, but without great team you can't win a tournament."

Against Croatia, the history is on Portugal's side - as it has won all three of their previous encounters without conceding a goal, including a 3-0 victory in the group stage of Euro 1996. More recently, Ronaldo scored the only goal in a friendly win at Geneva three years ago.

"This is a totally different match. I warned my players because we will play a final tomorrow," Santos said. "Croatia has a great team. (Luka) Modric is arguably one of the best players in Europe right now, no one doubts that."

Santos took over from Paulo Bento in October 2014 after Portugal's disappointing showing at the 2014 World Cup and poor start into Euro 2016 qualifying with a 1-0 defeat at home against Albania.

After leading Greece to the knockout stage of Euro 2012 and the 2014 World Cup based on a tightly organized defense, Santos followed the same philosophy and started rebuilding the Portuguese team.

One of the new names was Sporting midfielder Joao Mario, who made his debut as he replaced Ronaldo in Portugal's first match under Santos, a friendly against France at Saint-Denis. Mario has featured in all three matches Portugal played so far at Euro 2016.

"We are aware of what we've done so far. We were very good in some aspects but we need to improve in others," Mario said through an interpreter. "The group stage is behind us now, everything changes. We want to do much better than before."

Mario said "it was not ideal" that Portugal had just three days to rest following its final group match, compared to Croatia's four.

"We know we have not enough time to recover," he said. "But if you get to the knockout stage, you always feel energized."

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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